November 30, 2006
The once I received yesterday seemed a little more promising than usual. In the forwarded email the man said he had a "burning desire" for the Franciscan life. To say something like that reveals some intuition of the Franciscan vocation. As St. Bonaventure says in the prologue to the Itinerarium:
Via autem non est nisi per ardentissimum amorem Crucifixi
"Indeed there is no other way but through the burning love of the Crucified." In this simple statement we hear two of the central themes of Franciscan spirituality. First, it always has a focus on the affective; it lodges in our heart, our love, our feelings. Second, these are devoted to Christ crucified, the perfect intersection of love and suffering that is the Cross.
November 29, 2006
All (Franciscan) Saints
It's been almost 800 years since Francis received his first companions, which Francis described in his Testament as the time "when the Lord gave me brothers."
Since then God only knows how many friars and sisters and seculars have lived their lives through the inspiration of Francis and Clare. Surely many of them are among the saints with God. Today we celebrate them, and look forward to sharing in their joy, rest, and destiny.
November 28, 2006
On the other hand, sometimes proper ascesis and right effort is to ignore and disregard our feelings. On Sunday I was preaching, and I felt terrible. I was tired, and kept thinking that I was going either too fast or too slow. I didn't feel connected to the assembly, and found my text stale and repetitive. But my pastor said it was the best he had heard from me thus far.
I guess knowing when to listen to our feelings and when to ignore them is a work of discernment.
November 25, 2006
Christ the King
A few years ago I took a political science course, and in the class I met a guy from the
You and me, we are the anointed royalty of the
November 22, 2006
Too much fun it all is.
November 21, 2006
It's a curious feast day in that it has its origins in extra-canonical scripture, namely the Protoevangelion of James. I couldn't think of any other feast day like that; can anybody else?
In a way it reminds me of the Jewish feast of Hanukkah, with its origin in the second book of Maccabees. Because Catholic Christians accept the Old Testament of the Septuagint, while Protestants and Jews do not, this feast doesn't appear in the current version of the Jewish Scriptures. So, oddly enough, this Jewish feast appears in the Christian, but not the Jewish Scriptures. To make matters even more strange, Hanukkah also appears in the Gospel of John at verse 10:22.
November 20, 2006
And All his Empty Promises
For me it's not about whether or not a woman ought to wear a chapel veil. Nobody wears such thing where I serve. Not even the religious sisters I know and work with wear veils!
For me the story spoke to how we use our labels and factions in the catholic church to tear each other down. When we see someone praying in a certain way we put a label on him or her. And we have a host of labels: liberal, conservative, progressive, neo-con, restorationist, radical, traditionalist. And by these labels we are tricked into ignoring the simple fact that the person we are labeling is praying at all and struggling to express some devotion to God.
What would I say in my heart if I saw a woman wearing a chapel veil? Would I think, "Oh my, this one is a traditionalist!" or, "Well, here's someone who has internalized the patriarchal culture of oppressing women!"
Or perhaps would I see someone who was trying, in her own way, to express her reverence and devotion for our Lord? Even if it isn't what I would do, do I take up the challenge of seeing the grace of God in her devotion, or do I dismiss her with a label?
The devil uses these handy labels to help us to dismiss each other, so that we might not see the grace of God, especially if it's a grace that we don't understand or wouldn't want for ourselves.
Just for the record, people make fun of me for wearing a zucchetto.
November 18, 2006
The End of the World
My grandmother lived down the road from here in
“I’ll never need to buy any more socks; I have all the socks I’ll ever need.” Or one day when we were at “Stah Mahket” she said,
“I’m so old; I don’t even buy green bananas anymore!”
Such plain talk about death and dying can seem shocking to us who live in a culture that is so bent on denying death. Medicines and consumer products promise to make us look and feel younger. Even the normal signs of aging and growing up, like my ever-disappearing hair, are supposed to be a cause for shame, and a cause to give somebody our money for a remedy.
But thanks be to our Lord Jesus Christ, our death is not something to look upon as an evil to be feared or as a misfortune to be denied. Our death is the moment when all of the love we have given and received for the Lord’s sake, all of the goodness we have struggled to do, and all of the grace we have rejoiced in are summed up all at once. As we leave this world, all of the love, grace, and goodness of our lives are sealed into history and become permanent and indestructible in the Lord. And we ought to rejoice in such a thing as a graced destiny that is given to us by God.
And as each of us has an end that we can look forward to, so does the world as a whole. Every year at this time the Scriptures we proclaim at Mass lead us to reflect on this final destiny of creation. Today we begin the last two weeks of the year of grace 2006, and at the end of the liturgical year we are always invited to reflect on the end of the world.
Now there are a ton of people out there who would like to help you to reflect on the end of the world, from the protestant evangelical authors of the popular Left Behind series, to the Jehovah’s Witnesses who come to knock on your door. Trouble is, when folks reflect upon and look forward to the end of the world, they tend to create it in their own image. Mostly when I listen to them, I don’t hear about the glory of our Lord, but about eternal rewards and vindication for the speakers themselves and the punishment and misfortune of those they don’t approve of.
And when you hear preachers talking about rewards for themselves and punishments for everybody else, rather than preaching the glory of God, run, don’t walk, to the nearest exit.
But what are we catholic Christians to say about the end of the world? Well, if we stick close to the Word of God as we hear it here in the assembled community of faith, we can’t go wrong.
Already in the book of the prophet Daniel, six or seven generations before the birth of our Lord, we hear about the Resurrection. The prophet describes the rising of the dead as the great sign of the end of the world.
And this Resurrection has already begun! The Resurrection of Christ, the great mystery of our faith, is the end of the world breaking into human history. We look forward not to a Resurrection that is just about us as individuals, but about us as the Body of Christ, as those who have become the members of the Lord through our Baptism! This is why
By our baptism and our reception of the Body and Blood of the Lord in Holy Communion, we share in the very Resurrection of Christ. The Body of Christ that we receive is the Body of Christ that we are, and it is the same body that was Risen from the tomb on the third day.
This is how we may take the gospel we proclaim today from St. Mark’s apocalypse:
And then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in the clouds’ with great power and glory, and then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the end of the earth to the end of the sky.
Now this isn’t like with superman: “Look, up in the sky! It’s a bird, it’s a plane.” No. In fact, the opening of the Acts of the Apostles, you will remember, has the Risen Lord himself asking the disciples, “men of Galilee, why are you standing looking into the sky?”
No, seeing the Son of Man coming in the clouds, the Lord Jesus Christ who is the meaning and purpose of time and history, it isn’t about looking up into the sky or looking forward to future events in a merely human history. It’s about right now, and about what we are doing right now.
The Son of Man who is the judge of the world comes to us in the Scriptures we hear and in the sacrament we receive. The Body of Christ we receive here at Mass is the Body of Christ eternally raised from the dead, it is the Resurrection itself that we consume and take into our own lowly bodies!
This Resurrection is the end of the world in the sense of being the purpose, or goal of the world. In the Eucharist God gives us this Resurrection in the Body of his only-begotten Son. In our communion we are brought into the goal or purpose of all creation. We ourselves are fashioned and made into the end of the world.
And let’s take some comfort and encouragement from all this! The day-to-day struggles and the pains and inevitable decay we suffer in this life are not the whole story. We know that there is a deeper meaning, a deeper purpose to human life and the world. We know that all of the anxieties and pains we suffer for the sake of each other, all of the love we struggle to give to and accept from one another, all of this is summed up in the life and ministry, the suffering and death of the Lord Jesus.
And by his own Resurrection from the dead, Jesus will bring all of our love and pain and meaning along with him into the Risen life with God that is the real goal, purpose, and end of the world.
So let us praise the Lord and receive Communion in faith and gratitude, for by our Communion with him we will be caught up into the Resurrection and have our little lives hidden away in God for all eternity.
November 17, 2006
Elizabeth of Hungary
The idea made me uncomfortable, I must admit. Not that I know anything about this stuff, to be sure. So take what I say with a grain of salt, at least.
Nevertheless, "God" is not an utterance that is somebody's name. It is a clumsy placeholder of a term with it's referent in a transcendent Reality that is quite beyond our naming. This goes for the abstract nouns Elohim or Theos or for Biblical titles of God like Adonai or Kyrios.
God does reveal a name to Moses, YHWH, but it's cryptic and hardly a name in any sense that relates to our experience. Jesus reveals God as Father, which isn't a name but a suggestion of a particular kind of relationship.
Thus it seems to me that translating the complex utterance "God" with a proper name doesn't make much sense, religiously or theologically.
November 16, 2006
The trick is to hold the two senses of "end" together at the same time. The end of the world is both the terminal point of history and temporal progression, but is also the goal of human life and history.
The same is true of our personal end in death. It is the terminal point of what we have come to think of as ourselves, our life in time and in this world. But our death is also the goal to which we look forward, in which all of our love and goodness and effort for each other's sakes and for the sake of the Lord are summed up and made unrevisable and indestructible.
After all, as Francis approached the end of his life at the ripe old age of 44 or 45, he invited in the presence of "sister death."
November 15, 2006
Of course Adam had it all: a peaceful life and original innocence. So what could he possibly pray for?
How we answer this question may reveal our own idea of prayer. If we see prayer as basically remedial, as something we have to do because of our wretched condition and constant need to ask for the "graces we need," well then we might say that Adam hardly needed to pray.
On the other hand, if we see prayer as the grateful response of creature blessing its Creator, then Adam would have had just as much reason to pray as the rest of us who happen to live with the effects of original sin.
November 14, 2006
History, Eschatology, and Mission
One aspect of our reading that has caught my “ecclesial imagination’ with regard to missionary activity” has been the interaction of missionary dynamics with different theologies of history. The God of
As we have moved through the course these past weeks, I have been attentive to the ways in which conceptions or theologies of history interact with the theology of mission.
The powerful interaction between theologies of history and Christian mission begins in the New Testament itself, both in the sense of the practice of the primitive church and New Testament theological reflection. Here we can see the beginnings of how eschatology can set the tone for mission. And in this sense it seems to make quite a difference if one’s eschatology is of the futuristic or realized type.
Paul, though he seems to soften his apocalyptic expectation over the course of his career, seems generally confident in the immanent, historical return of Christ and the end of the age. (e.g. 1 Thess 5:2) This lack of remaining time no doubt inspired some of Paul’s incredible missionary zeal as a founder of churches, and his concern that the churches be found behaving decently and at peace at the Lord’s coming. (e.g., 1 Cor 1:10)
Perhaps most interestingly, in the letter to the Romans Paul’s eschatology and sense of history necessitate his contribution to the great missionary revolution of the New Testament: the mission to the gentiles. In the middle of the letter to the Romans, Paul presents a theological reflection that is a theology of history and mission at the same time. In the seemingly strange historical plan of God, the conversion of the nations will be required to convert unbelieving
Thus human effort in history at preaching the Gospel and converting all the nations to Christ will be required if God is not to be a liar in his covenant promises to
A more realized eschatology leads to a theology of mission with less urgency. The book of Revelation suggests that the final judgment has already come to pass: “Fallen, fallen is
This distinction between the theologies of mission produced by different kinds of historical sense and eschatology can be seen in modern Christian groups with strong apocalyptic expectation. The Jehovah’s Witnesses, for example, look forward to the coming of a renewed and perfected world in a very concrete way. Since this perfected kingdom will only be enjoyed by those who confess religion properly, it is the good will of the Witness to make an effort at helping others to share in it. This imagination of the immanent end of history as we know it can account, at least in part, for the tremendous missionary zeal of the Witnesses.
On the other hand, a fringe group like the Branch Davidians, who came to public consciousness in 1993, believed that they had already received their eschatological prophet in the person of their leader. For them the time of mission was over; they had only to wait for the completion of the final apocalyptic battle.
But what of us who have a Christianity that is more towards the mainstream? What is our theology of history or sense of eschatology? There is a general vertigo and malaise around these issues for us late- or postmodern people. As the old saying goes, attributed to various French philosophers, ‘God is dead, Marx is dead, and I don’t feel very well myself.’
Our world is no longer pervaded by a general sense of its theological finality. The horrors of the twentieth century have broken down our confidence in the evolutionary and progress based models that were supposed to replace a superstitious eschatology. The strongly acclaimed “end” of Marxism has even broken the hopes of purely material and secular eschatologies.
Catholic Christians seem to favor a theological approach of “both/and.” Thus we try to affirm an eschatology that is both futuristic and realized at the same time. The
We must be sure that this “both/and” approach is an invitation to live in a creative tension rather than a way to absolve ourselves from having to make any theological claim at all. Living in such a tense, two-fold theology of history will lead us to a double sense of mission.
First, our realized eschatology, our belief that history has reached its completion in the Resurrection, will lead us to proclaim to the world the great joy that “fallen, fallen is
At the end of the Mass our teacher went to the priest and told him:
"Paul tells us that we are to boast of our failures and shortcomings, that the power of Christ may shine through us. I came here today for forgiveness of sins."
November 13, 2006
This morning, as I'm sitting here reading C.K. Barrett's commentary on the Gospel of John, I look up and see this quote on my Starbuck's coffee cup:
Life is a school for angels. Love is the Teacher, so do your homework without fear. Death is merely graduation.
Isn't that great? Now we know that we aren't going to become angels; but we do aspire to the life of the angels in the sense that we hope to share with them the life of heaven.
The first letter of John teaches us that God is love. If we are very bold, we may even turn it around to say that Love is God! And we believe that love is our Teacher because Love Itself became one of us in the human life of Jesus of Nazareth.
So let's love, do our homework, and have our coffee without fear, and look forward to our graduation.
November 11, 2006
Last Sunday we heard the great double commandment: We are to love God with all we are, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. But what will this look like in our spiritual practice? This Sunday we are given a positive and negative example.
Religion can go either way for us. It can teach and enrich us toward openness and love and make us better people. It can make us more gentle, or it can make us more hurtful. It can serve our health or it can make us sick. The same is true of other basic vectors of human life: sexuality, family, food, etc.
The scribes in the Gospel use their religion as a way to indulge themselves: their pride, their vanity, their security. As the old saying goes, "power is the lust of the clergy." Their religion is not about loving God and neighbor, but about loving their own self-satisfaction.
The poor widow, on the other hand, gives to the Temple out of her poverty. And that's the trick to real spiritual practice. We must give not out of our riches but out of our poverty, not out of our power but out of our humility.
We must not, like the scribes in the Gospel, indulge ourselves in the (erroneous) idea that we are something great. We must not even please ourselves with what one friar called "delusions of adequacy."
Hardly anyone of us is a living saint. Nor are we spectacular sinners. Both our goodness and our sinfulness are unremarkable for the most part. To be humble is to accept the truth, to realize that we are "poor in spirit."
Now with this knowledge we can do one of two things. We can panic and try to fool the world into thinking we are something special, or a genius, or a saint, or whatever. And religion can be a big help in this project, as it was with the scribes! Eventually we can even fool ourselves.
Or we can accept our poverty and our insignificance. And when we find this kind of genuine humility, we can offer the little good we do have to the world. And to offer the world something truly humble is to offer it something fresh and about which it knows little these days. In this way we can imitate the widow whom Jesus praises today.
November 10, 2006
I hardly think about it, but it's true. I live in the wrong neighborhood. By the world's standards, I don't belong here. And I'm proud of it. Proud of it in the Lord, of course.
It reminded me of a band I used to listen to back in college, Nomeansno. Their best album, "Wrong," contained a poster or something that said, "Be Strong. Be Wrong." I hung it in my dorm room, and I think it might still be pasted to the inside of the lid of my footlocker.
Sometimes that's just the attitude that the disciple of the Lord needs. To have the strength and courage to think and do the wrong thing in the eyes of the selfish and glittering ideologies of this world.
November 9, 2006
Not that it's a day off. There's plenty to do and lots of things to file away and deal with here on my desk. Not to speak of the paper I need to get going on this morning or the laundry I desperately need to get done today. But I have the time to myself, and I can put on some college radio and enjoy the peace of the house and do what I need to do.
One time I was working with another friar and when we got the project together I said, "O.k., good, that's all set." The brother remarked that it was my favorite feeling to look at something - a term paper, a clean room, a pot of beans, my own soul, whatever - and see it squared away and "all set."
I guess that's why I like a day like today.
November 8, 2006
Bosch has a great statement toward the end of the book: he says our problem is that we're all Romantics and Pelagians at heart, and they amount to the same thing. I thought it was a brilliant thought and I was reflecting on it all day.
We're Romantics because rather than worship God, we would rather adore our cherished images of ourselves and the great things we imagine we will accomplish. When we desire prayer or "spirituality," sometimes what we really want is to admire our own imagined holiness.
We're Pelagians because all of these great plans for holiness and transformation of the world and inauguration of the Kingdom of God, we imagine as efforts or projects that are our own. And we want to own them as if they were worldly works.
These amount to the same thing because they are both ordered to the same goal: worship of ourselves.
Reflecting on this reminded me of the beginning of Hilaire Belloc's Pelagian Drinking Song:
Pelagius lived at Kardonoel
and taught a doctrine there
How, whether you went to heaven or hell
It was your own affair
It had nothing to do with the church, my boy,
But was your own affair.
November 7, 2006
November 6, 2006
One of the funny things about penance is that the penance we are given is not usually the penance we imagined ourselves doing. What we are given to do in order to turn ourselves to God and away from ourselves turns out to be something we don't really want.
This is because the penance we picture ourselves doing when we imagine ourselves as fine disciples of the Lord often turns out to be just one more form of selfishness, and in the more dangerous form of spiritual pride. Penance is hardly penance if it feeds our sense of self-satisfaction and makes the flesh feel like it's accomplishing something spiritual.
The devil is perfectly happy to have us do great things for the Lord, provided we can be made to do them in order to feed our own pride and lusts for recognition and approval. But because we are serving ourselves and not the glory of God, we will be constant grouches for lack of receiving the miserable rewards we seek. Our discipleship we will be opaque, and even little children will be able to tell that we are fakers.
November 4, 2006
On the way I was thinking about how this is really my favorite time of year. Perhaps it just suits my temperament. It's as if after the loud and manic mood of summer the earth cools off, takes a deep breath, lets go of some of her brightness and settles down for a quieter reflection.
It's just seems easier this time of year to relax the heart and think straight.
November 3, 2006
As a minister of the host, one sees a lot of outstretched hands. Since most people receive the host in their left hand, I notice a lot of wedding bands. And I reflect on how all of the holiness and pain and sacrifices of those marriages are taken up into the love and sacrifice of Christ in the Eucharist.
I also notice hands that have worked hard, hands that look tired, and the occasional mangled hand or missing finger. So many individual stories of effort and hope, pain and misfortune that are offered in the great sacrifice and thanksgiving of the Eucharist.
All of these, by Baptism and Eucharist, are aspects of the humanity of Christ. And by the Incarnation, the humanity of Christ is our door into the perfect peace, joy, and communality of the life of the blessed Trinity.
November 2, 2006
All Souls Day
As if purgatory is a bad thing! In fact, it is a teaching about the outrageous kindness and mercy of God. Even if we haven't finished - or hardly begun - getting ourselves ready for the full vision of God upon our earthly death, God has provided this manner, this time, this place - who knows what it is really - to complete our purification.
Sometimes I hear people say that this world is a test, and they're right in a way. But it's not like a final exam or a drug test. Yes, we have a choice whether to accept or reject the revelation of God the Father in Jesus Christ. But God is so good that the odds are stacked way in our favor. Even if we don't finish the "test" in this life, God has provided a way for us to be further purified after our death.
To wake up one day in purgatory is a great joy! Because there is only one exit from purgatory: the presence of God.
God wants nothing more than to save the world from it's insistence on its own misery, and bring us into the perfect peace and joy that is God himself. In fact, God is literally just dying to save us.
November 1, 2006
All Saints Day
It's also a day about hope, a hope that began in one family and has snowballed throughout history to include all the nations and peoples of the world. God promised Abraham and Sarah, in their old age, that they would have a child and that their descendants would be a great nation. Remember that Paul says that this birth from a barren couple was the beginning of the Resurrection!
This promise has grown and grown through the ages until it reaches its final fulfillment in the picture of heaven from today's first reading, in which thousands upon thousands from every nation and people sing the praises of God in the great flowing sea of joy and praise that is heaven.
Not only do we celebrate all the saints today, but we celebrate a destiny, our destiny and that of the whole creation.